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Anti-Nawaz backlash shows Pakistan’s collective denial about Mumbai attacks

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By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

The reaction in Pakistan to Nawaz Sharif’s recent remarks on the 2008 Mumbai attacks has ranged from treason petitions in high courts to a dedicated National Security Committee meeting calling out the former prime minister’s statement as ‘incorrect and misleading’.

The fact that Nawaz didn’t exactly conjure a revelation shows the extent of the denial that prevails in Pakistan and underscores the hegemony of the jingoistic narrative in the country.

The following are a few established facts about the Mumbai attacks.

On November 22, 2008 ten Pakistani militants trained near Sindh’s Thatta region left Karachi by boat, hijacked an Indian fishing vessel to navigate to Mumbai and murdered the crew.

Inside the city, they split into five pairs, eventually carrying out 12 coordinated attacks from November 26 to November 29, killing 166 people – including nine of the attackers.

Ajmal Kasab, the remaining perpetrator of the attack, confessed to being a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant, and was hanged on November 21, 2012 following the Indian Supreme Court verdict.

Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving terrorist in Mumbai Attacks, who was later hanged to death upon Indian Supreme Court orders

That each of the Mumbai attacks perpetrator was a Pakistani is a fact. That they were LeT militants trained in Sindh is a fact. That LeT has been used by the Pakistan intelligence as its ‘non-state’ militant wing is a fact – highlighted by, among countless others, former Army Chief and military dictator Pervez Musharraf.

Who’s Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi?

Hence, what is also extremely likely is the involvement in the Mumbai attacks of LeT leadership Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who was released by Lahore High Court three years ago, and Hafiz Saeed, currently heading a political party and planning to contest the upcoming elections.

Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi released from jail on bail, 2015

This is especially true considering multiple independent investigation sources maintain Saeed’s direct interaction with the 10 attackers, whom he assured “that being shot would feel like a pin prick, blood stains would be like rose petals, and that angels would come down to take their souls.” And also considering the fact that Saeed happens to be the LeT founder and chief.

Sharif hasn’t made some revelation; it’s all admitted already by Pakistan govt and Imran Khan in the past

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Most of this was accepted back in 2008 by the then government of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which is now asking Nawaz to retract his statement. Among those jumping aboard the bandwagon is the military leadership’s poster-boy Imran Khan, who in days gone by used to talk about the Army’s backing of jihadists as a matter of fact.

However, the more pertinent question in play for the past decade – including the 26/11 trials that have gone on in Pakistan – is whether or not the Pakistani state officials were involved in the biggest terror raid inside India.

Were the ISI officers involved? There’s no evidence at least

While there has been no evidence of any serving officials’ inclusion in the operation, multiple sources have claimed retired ISI officers’ involvement.

This includes the then ISI chief General (retd) Shuja Pasha telling the then Pakistan Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani that the 26/11 planners were “our people” but it was not “our operation”, and former ISPR chief Maj-Gen Athar Abbas saying that ex-ISI men were likely behind the Mumbai attacks.

What is likelier – as has become evident by Nawaz going gung-ho in his follow up statements – is that the former premier is implying military’s facilitation in these attacks by maintaining the jihadist groups as strategic assets.

Now with former Army and intelligence chiefs, international watchdogs, the current ruling party and indeed decades of documented South Asian history linking at the very least parts of the Pakistani military to the LeT and its Kashmir-bound affiliates, it is evident that the state has at the very least allowed these jihadist groups to take on strategic militant operations in the region, even if it hasn’t fully abetted them.

Video: Sherry Rehman, Pakistan Minister for Information and Broadcasting (2008-09), accepts Qasab was a Pakistani

The most critical part of Nawaz Sharif’s Dawn interview

This is where the most critical aspect of Nawaz Sharif’s statement in the Dawn interview comes: “Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai?”

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‘Should we allow them?’ This question was interpreted by the trigger-happy Indian media as acceptance that Pakistan was involved in the Mumbai attacks, with even some of the most progressive minds in Pakistan claiming that it alleges complicity.

Also read: The Echochamber of Malice: How Pakistani media beat its Indian counterpart on misrepresenting Nawaz’s Mumbai statement

What is likelier – as has become evident by Nawaz going gung-ho in his follow up statements – is that the former premier is implying military’s facilitation in these attacks by maintaining the jihadist groups as strategic assets.

A vindication for Dawn Leaks?

This, as far as Nawaz is concerned, vindicates the Dawn Leaks from 2016 that called out the Army for shielding militant groups which is resulting in international isolation for Pakistan – something that, again, former Army officers themselves have admitted.

However, when stating facts that are not just globally accepted but also echoed in Pakistan, are being interpreted as treason and are resulting in the Army-summoned National Security Committee meeting for condemnation, one can imagine the sheer thrust of inertia against any revisionist approach towards jihadist groups.

A poster of popular Dunya TV show Think Tank

Nawaz might be trying to muster international support but his words carry weight

And while Nawaz might be going after the military to muster international support, when a three-time prime minister with a political career spanning over three decades can pose as a rebellious voice of dissent, the sheer volume of the military sponsored denialism can be gauged.

That the leadership of the same military establishment has contradicted its own narrative on multiple occasions and platforms shows the extent of propaganda and manipulation. The puppeteer triggers skewed outrage and selective labels of treason at will, abetted by a largely spineless local media network.


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